Netherlands – The Port Of Hoorn

IT has been my experience that when a man looks at a serious small matter through his strongest pessimistic glasses, he sees it in black, jet-black, without any relief from any quarter of the universe. This is especially true if his vision be colored at that moment by a sense of vacuity in the inner man, and a feeling of personal injury that a belated lunch or dinner is apt to produce. Profiting by my experience I led the way, without any preliminaries, from the station straight across the shaded green to a modest-looking house which bore the enigmatical name of The Curry Comb.

I count The Curry Comb as one of my most delightful “finds,” worthy to be incorporated and memorialized in that inimitable pamphlet, Noord Holland. It stands, appropriately, between the stables and Cattle Market. We were isolated in the state front room, the windows of which looked out upon a large Place, backed by a dignified remise and, at that hour, just at the close of the market, filled with vehicles of all descriptions. It was again Beast Market day, and every town and ham-let in the country-side had sent its quota of sheep, its phalanx of stolid farmers with their vrouws, its bevy of gay youths and maidens to attend it. The men were harnessing splendid specimens of North Holland’s famous breed of horses into high, two-wheeled calashes, into huge, bright blue sheep carts as long as a Main jigger, into low, curving wooden galleons on wheels, dash-boards, sides, and back-boards beautifully carved. These Dutch schooners, which may be counted by the hundreds on market-day, are extremely graceful in shape, and their white hoods form an incomparable frame for the rosy, smiling faces, dainty caps, glittering head-pieces, silver chains and châtelaines, for the gay bodices and snow-white tuckers of the farmers’ wives and daughters whose buxom figures, plus their amplitude of petticoat, fill the vehicles to overflowing.

It was a pretty sight to watch the merry departures, and gladsome to hear the fun and laughter attendant upon each. The horses looked to be richly caparisoned in shining leather and brass harness, banded with white sheep’s wool about the withers to prevent chafing. Coal black mares, glossy-coated and round-haunched, reared and pranced and caracoled in tune with the festive time and place. At such seasons one may see something of Dutch country life at its best.

While waiting for our dinner, we looked into the back room where at a long table two score or more of the elders of the land were having a substantial after-market meal. The dressers were loaded with good things. Silver guldens, kwartjes, dubbeltjes, stuivers—the small five-cent Dutch silver piece, that is rarely found in city exchange — were keeping up a kind of running accompaniment to the tinkling of glasses; otherwise there was nothing to be heard but the evidence of strict attention to the business in hand. The Dutch accept their chief meal with gravity and a species of stolid earnestness that does not encourage jest.

Our own dinner proved satisfactory in every respect: a tender, juicy beefsteak smothered in potatoes and onions, new garden beans, white and gray bread with delicious butter. It was not an order; we simply took what was set before us. As a general rule we found this method of procedure in the smaller inns most satisfactory. The Dutch host was not put out of countenance by any demand on our part to provide the products of the American market, or the cuisine of a Delmonico. James, quoting, or rather paraphrasing, to suit the occasion, that pregnant sentence from A Sentimental Journey, “An Englishman does not travel to see Englishmen,” used to remind himself and me, at least once a week, that an American does not travel in the Netherlands to find America. With this in mind, we found ourselves well kept, well served, well fed — with but one exception — throughout the Netherlands. The smaller towns and villages can boast of inns and a homely hospitality which no New England village cf the same size can offer to a traveller. Our section of the country, at least, might well learn a lesson in this respect from the Dutch.

After dinner our host caused to be rolled out of the adjoining remise a fête-day barouche of Hoorn. It was an edition de luxe of a barouche, upholstered in down, and heavy satin of a delicate pearl-gray. I am convinced the little Queen, or her Queen Mother, must have used it as a state conveyance on some rare visit to the town. It looked like the trappings of royalty; it felt like the “seats of the mighty.” We were burdened with such state, and seemed much out of place as we drove about the ancient capital of North Holland. It would have suited our democratic taste to have driven in one of those charming Dutch galleons; but this particular expression of hospitality on our landlord’s part was too perfect to be ignored.

We were shown the sights of Hoorn: the mosaic of a Stadhuis, the brick and stone façade of which, to all appearances, faces both ways. The roof is obliged to reconcile itself to this architectural freak by an ornamental angle of jointure. The effect of the whole is pleasing by reason of its well-balanced oddity and the richness of mosaic. We were taken to the old hospital of St. Jan, and the Museum built of gray stone. Its high stepped gable looks like a rampant corner of a Zoological Garden, it has so many sculptured lions — one posing defiantly on every step. We were driven through the narrow streets which, much to our confusion and the inhabitants’ amusement, our royal coach filled from wall to wall, and upon whose tiny gabled houses our coachman, in his tall, parade hat, looked down from his high seat. Even the children were obliged to back into doorways to permit our passing without accident, and the beautiful little houses, mosaics of sculptured gray stone, or carved wood, and brick of a warm, seasoned red, were almost within our reach.

But it was when we had finished with the “sights” and descended from our state equipage that we began to be really happy in Hoorn. James said his democratic shanks’ mare was good enough for him in so small a place, and with these steeds we hied us without delay to the ancient Port. There; sitting on the quay, we drew a long satisfied breath — we were facing an-other realized ideal!

In artistic charm I associate this port, its approach and surroundings, with Gorinchem on the Merwede and Veere on the island of Walcheren, utterly unlike as are all three.

Picture a spacious haven, and beyond it a narrow port of entry, irregular in form, filled, not only with small sailing-craft of every kind, but, to all appearances, with houses, trees, drawbridges, warehouses, country carts, fish-nets, rigging, fish-creels, piles of cheeses and quintals of fish — the whole watched over by an indescribable Tower, the principal Gate of Hoorn, that nearly wets its foot in the waters of the haven.

This chief Tower-Gate is all unexpected gables, and tiny unintentional dormer windows breaking out in the most surprising spots on the steep-gabled roofs. The structure is rounded behind like the apse of a cathedral, and flat before like the rigid Bargello in Florence, but shows everywhere a florescence of lovely cornice, windows, and sculpture. It is a Tower that at every angle of view presents a different face. It is topped by an exquisite and audaciously aspiring steeple which is the proud possessor of a clock-tower, belfry, lookout and, far aloft, a weather-vane ship. Add to these details of construction a coloring at once rich, subdued, and harmonious, the dignity of a noble architecture of a noble age, the grace that every stone gathers with the weathering of centuries, and you may form a concept, colorless as compared with the actual, of this Tower that for so long has guarded the inimitable Port of Hoorn.

The setting of this Tower-Gate presents a fascinating conglomerate, and it is impossible to say at first where the streets and land end, and the wharves and waters begin; whether the drawbridge be an isthmus or strait; whether the piles of cheeses lie on docks or decks; whether the sailors are splicing their rigging or mending their nets; whether the lower story of the Tower is shadowed by adjacent trees or by a huge brown sail that seems inextricably entangled among them. With the lifting of the drawbridge it seemed as if some cataclysm of subsidence must ensue and houses, trees, ships disappear from sight.

I believe if every copy of the Bible in the Netherlands were to be destroyed, that much of its contents might still be read written in wood and stone, on silver and gold, on brass, bronze, and iron throughout the length and breadth of the Low Countries. We find it every-where: on houses, lintels, doors, gates, towers, churches, choirs, stalls, pulpits, screens, bells, pails, bread-boards, knife-handles, mangling-boards. So here at Hoorn. On the rounded side of the Gate towards the haven is cut in stone, Matthew vii. — Enter ye in at the strait gate. The conclusion in this case is hardly obvious as a decree of fate. It would seem that, in the Port of Hoorn, this special strait gate and narrow way, far from leading to life, might well, without the caution of a particularly knowing skipper, court destruction.

About two hours before sunset we watched for the coming of The Broomstick. It impressed us as particularly appropriate that our boat, with its honored and honoring symbol of victory, should make a proud entry into this special port. As every reader of a book on Holland knows, Admiral Martin Tromp, who nailed the historical broomstick to his masthead, levied many of the ships that formed his famous fighting fleet at Hoorn. We pleased ourselves, also, as Americans, dwellers on another continent, in the knowledge that our two great Americas, washed by the waters of three oceans, should be linked historically to this little Port of Hoorn touched only by the waves of the Zuider Zee! Willem Schouten, born here, rounded the famous cape in 1616, and named it after his native town.

We watched with full-blown American pride for the entrance of our boat. We congratulated ourselves that no other Americans had ever sat on the coping of the old quay anticipating the entry of their own Dutch Broomstick. We were lingering on these heights of patriotic and egotistic sentiment when we beheld that worthy craft suddenly heave into sight almost under our very noses. Evidently she was making what seemed to be a supreme effort to round the Tower and double the trunk of a tree just in front of us, without fouling the drawbridge and running down two scows laden with cabbages.

Willem Schouten’s efforts to double the renowned Cape could never have required greater nicety of calculation, nor more persistent struggle. Our nephew-captain and his uncle, our first and only mate, Cornelis Does, were poling and fending with desperate earnestness. Our vrouw, Neeltje, was at the helm. Her usually placid face wore such an unwonted, ruffled look that it amounted to an actual disfigurement. Her very cap-flaps, wide as an elephant’s ears, were limp, and a distracting and distracted mongrel cur, part dachshund, part terrier, — an addition to our crew, I at once perceived, since leaving Alkmaar — was racing like mad from stem to stern and filling the peaceful air of the Port with mongrel yelps.

An ignominious entrance for the second Broomstick !

I was glad no Admiral Van Tromp was there to witness it; even James expressed his relief that he had ordered the Stars and Stripes hauled down in our absence. He caught at the line, lent a hand, and helped to make our boat fast to a convenient pile. Then we entered into our own — the mongrel cur, meanwhile, barking furiously from the extreme peak of the prow, where he stood like an animated figurehead, forefeet stemmed, tail straight and quivering, body jerking as if with automatic wires, and vociferously proclaiming himself master of the situation.

It is, perhaps, needless to say that we adopted him on the spot in order to keep him quiet, and prevent our crew from striking. In Holland a boat without a dog-attachment is as anomalous and unpopular as a sewing-machine without an automatic tension. Both James and I knew there had been some dissatisfaction among the crew, but, up to the moment when the dog announced himself, had failed to find a cause.